Lauren Moore, vice president at Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact, in conversation with mentor mothers in South Africa. Photo by: Johnson & Johnson

Investing in girls and women is key to global health success and the private sector has a responsibility to create a pipeline that delivers for more women, according to Lauren Moore, vice president at Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact, the social impact arm of the health care company.

“Poverty numbers are actually going in the right direction and the growing lower-middle class, especially in Asia and Africa, is quite strong. I think we can look back and say a lot of that progress was achieved by investing in women,” said Moore, adding that this same investment now needs to be applied to women as the implementers of good health, not just the intended beneficiaries.

“We have a role to play in helping the world understand that health workers are a big part of the health care gap … it turns out that many — about 70% — of those health workers on the frontlines of care are women.”

Speaking to Devex, Moore explained why girls and women are critical in filling gaps in care and how the private sector can empower more females to be a part of the future health workforce and deliver health for all.

“Now is the time where the private sector is expected to act by using our influence and size for good.”

— Lauren Moore, vice president, Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you think girls and women are critical to global health success?

What we've learned over the years is that in order to effect real change in the world, including in health, investing in empowering women is one of the key factors, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

J&J has supported health workers of every kind over many decades. Our team, in particular, focuses on nurses, midwives, and community health workers — cadres that are predominantly comprised of women. Understanding that women are often the ones in families who are responsible for health but also, on the health care side, that some of the most effective interventions in the system are carried out by women, is important.

Women are the trusted — and we like to say the heart — of the health care system at home and in the clinic; now we need them in leadership. That’s where the next wave of progress, or success, will come from.

How does J&J GCI leverage the power of girls and women to change health for all?

Girls and women empowerment at Johnson & Johnson

Women's leadership and the contribution and empowerment of women and girls has been important since the very beginning for Johnson & Johnson. If you look back to our history, eight of our original 14 employees were female. When you think that was 133 years ago, that was quite unusual for the time and we’re proud that 47% of J&J employees today are female.

Health workers are a big focus for us. We either need to create more health workers — again often women — or build the specific skills and capabilities of health workers already in the system. With this focus on the health workforce, we set out to deeply understand health workers and their needs, asking questions like, “how we can enhance a health worker’s skills, champion their everyday work, and support them to be more resilient?” We hear a lot about burnout, fatigue, and stress.

We also hear a lot about stigma. Many of these female health workers are not valued in the way you might imagine. So we think about how to raise the profile of these health workers to make sure they get the support and respect they need.

We're trying to spend time — whether it's at the global level, through our partnership with the International Confederation of Midwives, or getting down at the very grassroots level — to deeply understand the needs, better identify the stigma, and consider what resources we might be able to bring to improve their conditions.

We seek to empower midwives who receive little to no pay, champion nurses who are denied professional development or leadership opportunities, and develop community health workers denied a role in the health system itself. The stigma that lies within the health system must be addressed, especially for these crucial cadres that countless communities rely upon to access for care.

We also think a lot about women leaders who are changing the face of health care. We have a partnership, for example, with Vital Voices that identifies women leaders around the world who are pioneering impactful work, much of which focuses on the health sector.

We're not only supporting Vital Voices with financial contributions, but we identified the Vital Voices 100 Women around the world, who are incredible change-makers in their own country, and matched them up with senior female executives at J&J as longer-term mentors. We support them with expertise and resources to try to help them be successful in whatever their endeavor is.

Would you say the private sector really does have a role in lifting women and girls up and making sure they feel empowered to work in this sector and achieve all that they can?

I think there's no question that that's the case. It’s probably not consistently applied in the private sector, but there's been a lot of changes in the expectations of the private sector even in the past 10 years. While I'm incredibly proud of the track record of J&J, we know it isn't the case with every corporation, and we know different industries are either ahead or behind.

I couldn't say every company in the private sector takes a comprehensive approach, but I think more and more people are committing. The private sector understands it's got a role to play and I wish the change was faster, but I think there's no question that there's a significant role, in part because we have a big voice and more advocacy power than most non-profits.

Now is the time where the private sector is expected to act by using our influence and size for good. J&J has committed to this work for decades. I believe participation from the private sector will lead to long-term benefits for all, but especially for women.

Do you have one all-encompassing call to action for the global health community around the empowerment of women and girls?

We learned 20 years ago about the long-term effect of investing in women and I think we can look back and say a lot of progress has happened because we focused on investing in women.

Now, how do we take the learning that investing in women is a smart investment and really apply it in the health sector? I believe focusing on midwives, nurses, and community health workers is where the biggest opportunity to create impact and sustainable change lies, particularly because we know so many frontline health workers are female.

Many know J&J for our long-standing commitment in maternal and child health, and we're still very committed to that, but we also now understand that the intervention was often making sure that a woman had a skilled midwife at her birth, or a nurse or community health worker supporting her family. People often talk about the last mile and they think only about products, but it really is that trained front-line health worker who helps make sure you have primary care. That’s the real heart of health care.

Join Johnson & Johnson at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference to ignite your power for a healthier world for girls and women. Learn more here.

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